Overseas seasonal workers have been locked out of New South Wales under tighter border restrictions introduced last night.
A statement from the state Health Minister’s office said: “seasonal workers from Victoria will no longer be permitted entry into NSW, and they are not eligible for a permit”.
Seasonal workers on a visa cannot get a permit to cross the NSW border. Pacific workers, backpackers and people on working holiday visas are considered “high-risk” by NSW Health Minister. The citrus industry says the decision is “illogical and discriminatory”.
Who is affected?
The restrictions do not affect permanent residents or citizens who are seasonal workers, according to the NSW Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall.
“They are classed as critical service providers and employees and can enter NSW with a permit,” he said.
“We are talking about seasonal workers that are visa holders such as those on working holiday visas or Pacific Labour Scheme visas.”
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It also includes backpackers, international students and people on working holiday visas.
Up to 1,200 people in the Sunraysia region will be affected, according to industry body Citrus Australia.
Farmers challenge decision
The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has slammed the decision as a “failure of common sense”.
Vice President of the VFF Emma Germano said it would cause huge issues for the horticultural supply chain if fruit pickers were not able to travel for work.
“If we’re choosing who’s allowed to move around based on what their visa status or what their passport says, that’s obviously not in line with how the coronavirus has treated us all equally,” she said.
Ms Germano said the requirement for workers to isolate after crossing the border and finishing work puts into question the sector’s ability to produce food right around the nation.
According to the NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall the decision was based on health advice.
He said health officials in both NSW and Victoria deemed visa holders “high-risk and potential spreaders” of COVID-19.
“My concern is to make sure the agriculture sector and the food supply chain is able to continue virtually uninterrupted,” Ms Marshall said.
“I don’t anticipate at this stage the change with the visa holders causing any significant problems for agricultural industries on either side of the border.”
Citrus industry alarmed
Citrus Australia said the lockout would mean fruit would be left to rot on the trees and the cost to growers and the economy would be millions of dollars.
Chief executive Nathan Hancock said there should be a permit for seasonal workers who have been in the region for more than 14 days, if they were healthy and have employment.
“There is no justification to ban seasonal workers as they do not pose a greater threat than anyone else working in agriculture,” he said.
“This is illogical and discriminatory and has turned off the labour supply overnight.
“We’re being asked to provide evidence that this is a problem for industry, but I want to see evidence that being a visa holder makes you more susceptible to being a COVID carrier.”
The NSW Cross Border Commissioner, James McTavish, said he was seeking clarification of the policy.
The state Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the policy would not change and that seasonal workers were high-risk and the work could be done by others as there was no labour shortage in the state.